La Luna Misteriosa: Polyphonica Crimson S

Students and spirits combine

to create music and save the known world.

To begin with, dear reader, let me just assure you that the cover of this DVD has nothing to do with today’s actual series. It is not loli porn or regular hentai in any way, shape, or form. It’s not even very ecchi. I have no idea why they went with a mostly naked Corti for the cover of the second season. Personally, I would be embarrassed to have this sitting on my anime shelf. And that’s a real shame, because Polyphonica Crimson S is actually quite an excellent anime (as I hoped it would be in my First Impressions post).

Hey kid, I know I’m glowing and stuff, but just don’t freak out, alright? All will be explained in this season, so hang tight…

This is the second season to the original Polyphonica, but it’s actually a prequel. Now we get to see the lives of the Dantists of the Tsuge Divine Music Player Office while they’re still in school and learning to master their One-Man Orchestras in order to play powerful Commandia. (If all of this sounds like gibberish to you, please see my review of the first season in order to get a grasp on the setting and characters involved in season two.) The plot is revealed little by little, and I obviously don’t want to give away any big surprises. What I will say is that you get an in-depth look at Corticarte and Phoron’s growing spirit/Dantist relationship, as well as the struggles that Phoron goes through in order to become a master Dantist. Also, we finally discover the full details of what spirits are, how they function, and exactly how spirits, humans, and indeed this entire world was created. It’s not all sunshine and roses, though, as the antagonists this time around are a group of highly skilled Dantists who are very unhappy with the current state of affairs. Secrets hiding at the Dantist Academy are revealed, and the students have to band together in order to combat the rebels and try to save everything they know and love.

Phoron does his best Phantom of the Opera impression. Gets the ladies every time.

What’s really great about this prequel is the fact that all of my questions and concerns about season one were answered in this season. Seriously, every single problem I had with the first season was addressed here. What the heck are “spirits” and where did they come from? Answered. What’s the full story of Phoron and Corticarte’s relationship? Addressed. The subtitles were normal-sized in this season instead of tiny as they were in the last. The artwork was similar to before but slightly more crisp and detailed this time around. And my biggest concern from last season, the one-off episodes that never developed a sustainable plot, was completely laid to rest in season two. Crimson S was much more successful in producing unique episodes but still feeding details about the big picture each time, so when the final few episodes appeared we, the viewers, were better prepared and much more invested in the outcome.

See what I mean? Ladies love Phantom. All except for Prinesca, who prefers Cats.

On top of fixing the problems from before, the creators of this series kept everything that was great about the first season. Once again the music was lovely, and while not new, it still resonated with beauty, especially in the finale. Corti was as cross and brash as ever, Phoron was still sweet and unassuming, and good ol’ Rembart remained the coolest kid in school. Once again there was an episode devoted to the twin sisters Prinesca and Perserte, and this time I even got a little choked up watching it. There were a few new characters introduced in this season, but not nearly as many as in the first, which made them much easier to keep track of than the folks in season one. While I don’t think that the main cast of Dantists and spirits were necessarily more emotionally developed in this season, because they are the ones that we’ve been following since the beginning it’s easy to feel a kinship with them, fleeting as it may be.

Corti gets a buzz from Phoron’s mighty fine playin’.

Overall, season two of Polyphonica is vastly superior to the first. Every problem I had with season one was answered in spades, and all the good stuff remained. As is par for the course with most anime there was slightly more fan service in this season, but nothing much more than a couple of blurry ecchi shots of Corti. At one point we even see Phoron naked, which was really weird! I mean, I’m all for equal nudity, but he’s such a pure and innocent character that it felt dirty to see his naked lil’ bottom. Even so, it’s nowhere near as ecchi as the cover might lead one to believe. In fact, absolutely everything was better in season two. However, you still need season one in order to appreciate it. I’m so glad that I watched Polyphonica Crimson S because it gave me everything that I was missing the first time. I love backstories and prequels, and this one lived up to all of the promise that was only hinted at in season one.

Rating: ★★★★ Sure, you have to get through season one in order to get to the good stuff here. However, this season alone elevates the entire series.

Death Becomes Her: Princess Resurrection

She is the princess of all monsters.

He now lives to serve only her.

Today’s is my younger sister’s birthday. Happy birthday, sis! My younger sister enjoys anime, but she’s over the moon for Kdrama, so in her honor I was planning to write a First Impressions review of a Kdrama. Alas, time was not on my side, and since I have several completed anime series just begging for review, I’ll merrily go forth with today’s offering: Princess Resurrection. (At least it has “princess” in the title, so that can be the nod to my sister for now.)

“I’m a princess, and I drink tea. That’s our thing here: monsters and tea.”

Hime is a princess, but not just any princess. She’s a member of the royal family who rules over all monsters. Unfortunately, she and her siblings are constantly engaged in an epic battle to the death. Because of this, Hime must watch her back and keep those loyal to her nearby at all times. Enter our hapless hero, named, appropriately enough, Hiro. He’s your average teenage boy, and he’s on his way to live with his older sister, Sawawa, in the mansion where she works as a maid. Unfortunately, on the way to meet her he ends up saving Hime’s life at the cost of giving up his own. Hime, impressed by his chivalry, brings him back to life with her scared flame. (For more details please read my First Impressions post about this series.) However, the flame must be revived every so often by Hime or else he’ll die again, this time permanently. And so the only way that Hiro can stay alive is to remain at Hime’s side as her sworn servant. He’s not completely on his own, though. Hime also has a very capable android maid named Flandre, and as the series progresses she gains the aid of a hot-headed werewolf named Liza as well as a calculating vampire named Riere. Hime needs all the help that she can get, because in every episode she ends up battling one supernatural creature after another, most sent to destroy her by one of her royal siblings. But which one is most out to get Hime? And why must the royals continuously battle one another?

Hiro makes his patented “Oh boy, here we go again!” face. Which is pretty much his only facial expression.

Y’know, I really, really wanted to love this anime. And I really, really don’t. Where to begin? Well, let’s start with the most obvious part: the artwork. By this point I’ve seen several Madhouse offerings, and usually I enjoy the quality of their work. But this series just seemed underdeveloped with its basic lines, lack of detail, and primary coloring. Speaking of underdeveloped, I felt that the story had potential, but it was all wasted week after week on one formulaic episode after another. A member of Hime’s household gets attacked, everyone bands together to fight off the intruders, Hime more often than not saves the day, everyone gives Hiro comedic grief. Cut, print, next episode: same thing. No character was shown beyond a basic personality trait (Liza’s hot-headedness, Riere’s mocking bitchiness, Hime’s calm lack of concern, Sawawa’s cluelessness…) and even when we were given select details about a character’s background it failed to make said character any deeper or more interesting. I know that shounen heroes are often portrayed as flat in order for the viewers to insert themselves into the main role, and Hiro was as flat and boring as they come. However, no character in the entire series displayed anything other than the same trademarks by saying the same lines in the same stories time and time again.

I haz a Flandre, your argument is invalid.

Not that this series was a total loss. The English voice cast was pretty great, especially considering the drab material they had to work with. I was genuinely delighted to hear Hime’s seiyuu, Shelley Calene-Black, make a vocal appearance in The Book of Bantorra, and Luci Christian (voicing Liza) is always a treat. The OP and ED were great, especially the ED, which also had some fabulous artwork accompanying it that reminded me of 90s goth girl comics like Lenore and Emily the Strange. Despite saying only one word throughout the entire series (which sounded like, “Foogah!”) Flandre grew to become my favourite character, probably because she was diminutive yet kicked ass. I never expected her personality to grow very much because she was an android, and yet she actually did inch up just a bit in episode twenty-five. Speaking of which, the final three episodes were, in my opinion, the most interesting. Episode twenty-four provided a conclusion that wasn’t shocking so much as, “Oh, so that’s the deal. Huh, okay.” Then twenty-five was about Flandre, and twenty-six was an interesting nightmarish recap of previous capers. Each of the final three episodes provided a slight stirring of emotions, and while it wasn’t much, it was felt like falling into a lake in the middle of a desert.

Sorry gang, it just wasn’t working for me. Hiro, keep it in your pants!

I really wanted this series to be so much better than it actually was. Truth be told I was bored after just three episodes, but I kept watching anyway because I hoped it would get better. I’ve discovered that quite often anime series with at least twenty-four episodes tend to get repetitive and stale in the first twelve, then blossom into a cohesive plot in the latter twelve. However, that was not to be the case this time. I will admit that episode thirteen, “Princess Sacrifice,” did make quite an impression on me. Hime and Hiro become trapped in a village and pursued by a massive serial killer who wears a bag over his head and wields a scythe. I was actually freaked out while watching it, then I had a nightmare that evening because of that episode. However, I think that speaks more to my personal psyche rather than the anime itself. Overall, I was excited at the prospect of a gothy anime with lots of strong female characters, or at least a funny harem with monsters, but alas, it was not to be. Princess Resurrection is just that: the same ol’ plot resurrected over and over and over again throughout twenty-four episodes. And that’s far too long to be strung along, even by a princess.

Rating: ★★✰ I suppose I’m glad that I finished it, especially given that I usually enjoy the subject matter, but if I knew then what I know now, this series would be a definite pass.

Norse Code: Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok

Face of a child, powers of a god.

He could end the world or save it.

I’ve been watching Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok for so many weeks now that I can hardly believe it’s over. Everything must end, though, especially this series, since Ragnarok is actually the end of the world in Norse mythology. In fact, that was my main draw to today’s show: getting to see anime versions of the gods of Asgard in action. It never quite turned into the series I was hoping it would (see my First Impressions for details) but it was still a worthwhile watch.

Meet Loki, a god, and Mayura, a girl with the power to say “Another strange mystery!” more annoyingly than anyone else on Asgard or Earth.

Loki, Norse god of mischief, has been exiled to Earth in the form of a child. He’s not quite sure why Odin (ruler of the Norse gods) has a vendetta against him, but he wants to return to Asgard (the realm of the gods) as well as his original form quite badly. The only way he can do this is by gathering evil energy (though what exactly he’s supposed to do with all that evil energy, we don’t know) so he opens a paranormal detective agency along with his trusty manservant Yamino. While solving a case involving an evil doll he meets Mayura, a teenager who is obsessed with mysteries and the paranormal. She begins hanging out with Loki (despite his initial objections) and tries to help solve cases, though more often than not she gets captured or is just in the way. Mayura doesn’t realize that Loki is a god despite all of the strange and magical things that happen when he’s around, proving she’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. Throughout the series more gods show up, some with the intention of helping Loki, others trying to kill him. It seems like just about everyone in Asgard is either in love with him or wants him dead. Either way, they all get into many escapades as the series progresses and Loki gets closer to the truth about who is the one actually thirsting for vengeance.

“Check out my super cool weapon Yamino! Wait, what do you mean you’re not impressed? I don’t care if you’ve seen me wield it a thousand times, you will be awed by it or you’ll taste my clichéd wrath!”

Let’s start with the good: the animation itself is excellent for a series that’s nearly a decade old, which one would expect with Studio Deen. It’s a little bright and cartoony in comparison to other works such as Hell Girl or Vampire Knight, almost as though Studio Deen were producing a typical American Saturday morning cartoon, yet even so the quality is apparent. The opening theme is great, and while the closing theme suffers from some shaky vocals, it’s still quite catchy. The idea of the story is an interesting blend of culture: Norse gods solving occult crimes in modern-day Japan makes for some amusing scenes. However (and here we get to the bad) the story overall never really took off. It was a series of similar plotlines, and even when new gods were introduced they were just blended into the background of another form episode the next time. The second half of the series was better than the first in that we finally had some established conflict within the plot, but it was still never riveting entertainment due to reliance on the same old story patterns. In that regard, Loki’s weapon transformation scene was never outrageously cool to begin with, and after seeing it in nearly every single episode I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. It became stale and predictable, which is a shame given that the subject matter had such potential.

Yamino silently wills Mayura to stab herself in the eye as the audience cheers uproariously.

I could have better dealt with the formulaic episodes if the characters had been well-developed and interesting, but they weren’t. Loki as a child was bland and aloof in a partial-tsundere way and only became interesting when he transformed back into his original form. Those episodes were my favourites, but they were far and few between. Yamino had two episodes of not being the cheerful manservant and was otherwise relegated to only having the quirk of overspending on home shopping to make him lovable. Mayura was, for lack of a better term, a complete idiot and did nothing but detract from the show. Even her shrill voice was annoying. The other gods each had their own eccentricity such as Thor’s obsession with part-time jobs, Freyr’s obsession with cheap food, and Freyja’s obsession with, well, Loki. However, there was little else to each character other than her or his one definable trait, hence they were impossible to connect with, which kept me as a viewer from getting truly engrossed in the story.

Loki’s true form. “Better luck next time, lol!”

As a fan of Norse mythology and paranormal anime I was really looking forward to this series, but it never blossomed into the dark, rich tale that I was hoping for. That’s not to say that there’s no merit here: it’s a unique depiction of Loki, to be sure. He’s certainly much more accessible (and even sort of lovable) compared to other portrayals of the god of mischief found in stories such as Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Marvel’s Thor, or even the original Norse mythology. According to good ol’ Wikipedia the manga is much darker than the anime, which leads me to believe that perhaps the manga is better, or at least that it lives up to the tempting potential displayed in the gothic opening credits of the anime. Even so, something kept me watching week after week. Admittedly I’m harsher when reviewing a series that I’m really looking forward to since it’s easier to be pleasantly surprised when your expectations are low. Mine were rather high for this one, but had I gone in blind (or just not raised my expectations based on the references to Norse mythology in the title) I might have written a glowing review of a relatively light, enjoyable fantasy anime. Even though Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok didn’t quite deliver on its promise of dark intrigue and ancient godly battles, it’s still worth watching, especially if you adore the Norse gods like I do.

Rating: ★★★ Check it out for the fleeting mythological references, stay for the dreamy glimpses of adult Loki.

First Impressions: The Book Of Bantorra

With the books of the world at stake,

know that the librarians kick ass.

I saw a preview for this series on Anime Network and thought that the art looked good. Then the premise was described: books that need the protection of a band of highly skilled fighting librarians. How awesome! I love books, I love libraries, I almost decided to be a librarian myself. This show seemed right up my alley.

We fight for truth, justice, and the Dewey Decimal System!

We begin with a band of said librarians on a boat speeding to a huge ship in order to rescue something or some things. The head librarian, a gal who seems pretty badass but can never manage to button her shirt up over her huge breasts, sits on a cliffside telepathically calling the shots. The huge boat in question is carrying a bunch of guys from the Shindeki Church, who seem to be our given bunch of evildoers for the series. The guys sit around a table and talk cryptically about stuff, and one guy says that he will become the most glorious book ever. What the what? Okaaaay…

This evil guy really loves books. I mean, he really, REALLY loves books.

The librarians talk about looking for a certain item as well as rescuing the…meets? Meats? I’ll go with “meats” for now. “Meats” is a derogatory word for the masses of hollow-faced, dead-eyed people on the huge ship. As the librarians close in, the priests manning the ship start dropping meats that contain bombs into the ocean to deter their pursuers. The librarians are horrified but make it on board anyway. Unfortunately all of the main bad guys fizzle away in a very Star Trek-esque beam, and before the librarians can free the non-bomb meats, the ship explodes. The librarians try to save the meats, but they refuse to save themselves, preferring to simply fall into the murky depths below. I was a bit tired when I watched this initial episode, so I didn’t quite latch on to everything that was happening, but one of the meats began glowing and didn’t drown. How he made it out of the water was a detail I missed, but survive he did, because an unnamed bad dude sends that same meat off to kill someone back on land. Meanwhile we get introduced to the librarians’ headquarters, a few random characters milling around it, and a quest that the director with no buttons wants the librarians from the boat to undertake.

“Buttons? Ha, I need no puny buttons, just my razor-sharp alphabetizing skills!”

I’ll give this anime credit, there’s certainly a lot of detail that this world is simply teeming with. It was probably a bit too much for someone sleepily watching in the wee hours of the morning, but even so, I’m intrigued. I know from the preview that the souls of dead people turn into books that look like stone tablets, and that the librarians protect them, and this was mentioned in passing by an old lady who helps a fumbling young girl dropping stone books at headquarters. Apparently if you read one of these books you get the entire story of someone’s life, which is a cool concept, but I’m not quite sure how this comes into play with the Shindeki Church and the epic battles over books. Still, I’m looking forward to finding out, and hoping that the second episode clears up a few things, plot-wise. As I mentioned before the art is sharp and quite excellent, and the ending theme song was great. Overall I look forward to delving deeper into The Book Of Bantorra, though next time I’ll make sure I’m fully awake so as not to miss anything in this seemingly layered and nuanced story.

First Impressions: Polyphonica Crimson S

Familiar faces retell their tales

only with more detail this time.

Even though you might think that I wouldn’t be interested in a second season of Polyphonica based on my review of season one, I’m actually pretty stoked to get the chance to watch it. Besides the various good points from the first season that would reel me in again (namely the music, the main character Corti, and the hope of another moving final episode) it turns out that season two, Polyphonica Crimson S, is actually a prequel. And I love a good prequel.

Corticarte, before the evil magic forced her to wear a full shirt.

Episode one opens much like the first episode of season one, showing the spirit Corticarte meeting a young Phoron for the first time, only now we get a bit more detail. Corti is drawn to Phoron’s singing and appears before him, saying that she wants him and his song to be entirely hers. However, she soon disappears. (By the by, if you’re unfamiliar with this series, you should definitely take a gander at my review of Polyphonica before going further, otherwise it might get confusing.) From there we skip ahead to Phoron attending Dantist Academy, where students go to learn how to hone their musical abilities in order to utilize the help of spirits. Poor Phoron is having difficulty and is in danger of not advancing due to the fact that he can’t summon a single spirit. Renbart is attending school with Phoron (as are younger versions of all of the Dantists of the Tsuge Divine Music Player Office) and encourages him to keep trying, but even though Phoron has seemingly mastered his one-man orchestra, the spirits refuse to show.

Naked girl grabs Phoron: cue sexual innuendo.

One day Phoron is practicing alone in the auditorium when he recalls meeting Corticarte as a child. Instead of playing his musical instrument, he begins singing the same song that he sang on that night many years ago. The other Dantists are secretly listening to him sing, as is a shadowy figure who seems to be trapped in a dungeon. As Phoron finishes, Renbart, Prinesca, and Perserte all descend on him to praise his singing. However, they’ve just begun to give their glowing reviews when the shadowy figure, who has escaped during the song, appears in the Academy and begins trashing the place. The young Dantists follow the shadow outside, where Eufinley (the future boss of the Tsuge Divine Music Player Office) begins playing her violin in order to get her spirit to attack the shadow. Eufinley’s spirit is no match, however, and the shadowy figure advances on Phoron. Suddenly the shadows fade and we see that it’s Corticarte. She tells Phoron that she was captured that night may years ago before she could complete the spirit bond with him, but hearing his song again freed her (though she’s now in a slightly diminutive form). Now she can be Phoron’s spirit, and he, her Dantist. Plus, Phoron gets to advance in school, hurray! The episode ends some time later on with Corti and Perserte bickering jealously over Phoron (and Prinesca standing awkwardly nearby) as they all make their way to class.

Shenanigans! Hijinks! Hilarity ensues!

This episode was basically an expanded version of a flashback episode from season one. What I like about it is that we finally seem to be getting some juicy background details on these characters, which as I noted in my review, was sorely lacking from the first season. Everything thus far is exactly like season one art-wise, music-wise, and setting-wise. The big difference is that now we have more character-driven plot to sink our teeth into. I hope that the second season continues in this vein of expanding backstories instead of creating wacky Scooby Doo-esque capers for the teenage Dantists to engage in. I’m still expecting one-off storylines like we had in season one, but as long as the characters remain at the forefront of this series, I don’t see how it can go wrong. This episode set my expectations fairly high for Polyphonica Crimson S. I hope that it lives up to its initial promise.

First Impressions: My Girlfriend Is A Gumiho

She’s no ordinary foxy lady.

This girl might love or kill you.

Yup, another first impression post this week. I’m at the point where a bunch of series have almost ended, at which time there will be a flood of full reviews. Until then, time to start lots of new series, wheee! Today’s first impression is another Kdrama, and one that I’ve actually wanted to check out for quite some time: My Girlfriend Is A Gumiho. I adore folklore, fairy tales, and cultural tidbits from all over the globe, so a comedy about a girl who is actually a nine-tailed fox is something I couldn’t miss.

Meet Dae-Woong, our everyman hero. You can tell that he’s “of the people” by his flannel and Dark Knight t-shirt.

In episode one we meet Cha Dae-Woong, a student and aspiring actor who survives on the money that he begs, borrows, and steals from his wealthy grandfather. Since he’s an orphan, he’s been raised by said grandfather and his aunt, both of whom spoil him to a degree but also try to push him in the direction of growing up to become a respectable person. However, when he uses his tuition money to secretly buy a motorcycle, his grandfather has had the last straw, so he forces Dae-Woong into the car and tries to make him go to boarding school. Dae-Woong fakes needing to use the bathroom and manages to escape in the back of a produce truck. After he sneaks out of the truck at a gas station, he manages to hitch a ride with a passing monk who takes him to the temple where he lives. Dae-Woong borrows the monk’s cellphone and tries to remember his aunt’s phone number, but the reception is bad so he makes his way down to a secluded part of the temple that’s devoted to the Goddess of Childbirth. While there the phone dies, but he hears a voice that commands him to go inside and draw nine tails on a fox sitting in a painting with the Goddess. Understandably he’s freaked out, but Dae-Woong does what the voice tells him to, then bolts out of the temple and into the woods…where he soon falls off of a cliff.

See my nine tails? That’s the last thing you’ll ever see if you mess with me, pretty boy!

The fox disappears from the painting, and a pretty girl comes across Dae-Woong’s body. Her nine tails swish in the moonlight, and she blows an energy bead into Dae-Woong’s mouth. The next morning Dae-Woong wakes up and isn’t even hurt, and the pretty girl explains that she’s a gumiho (a nine-tailed fox spirit) who gave him her energy bead which prevented him from dying. Dae-Woong thinks that she’s crazy, and demands to see her tails. She says that she can only show them to him in the moonlight. At that Dae-Woong keeps trying to lose her (first in the forest, then later on in a nearby town) but the gumiho keeps finding him, saying that she has to stay with him because he has her bead. Finally Dae-Woong yells at her, telling the girl that he doesn’t believe what she says. The girl becomes serious and says that she’ll find him again, make him believe, and then he’ll die. This actually gets under his skin, and he keeps thinking about the girl as he rides the bus back to Seoul.

If you guessed that this guy is our villain by his villainous haircut, you’d be correct. Angled haircuts are to Kdrama villains as black hats are to bad guys in old Westerns.

Meanwhile, a man who seems to be a vet visits the temple where the painting resides in order to check on the monk’s dog. When the monk explains that the fox is no longer in the painting, the vet gets a strange look on his face. When he leaves, he tells his cohort that they’ll be hunting a new kind of creature, a mutant of sorts, but one that’s adorable. When Dae-Woong arrives back at his school he talks to his friends and learns that his aunt wants him to stay away until she can smooth things over with his grandfather. One of his friends notices sever bruises on Dae-Woong’s back, and he wonders why he doesn’t feel pain. Dae-Woong begins to slowly believe what the girl in the woods said. The other friend says that he can stay in the room above the gym that they’re in, then Dae-Woong is left alone. After playing basketball by himself for a time, the gumiho shows up. She unfurls her tails in the moonlight, then tells him that she’s going to take back her energy bead, which means that his previous injury will kill him. She leans in and begins sucking the bead out of his body…and that’s where the episode ends!

Oh, well, if you’re sure you’re fine, I’ll just take this old thing back. Thanks!

I enjoyed this episode, though I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It’s been more of a straight-up comedy than a romance, the latter of which is usually what has been the basis of the Kdramas I’ve seen thus far, but I’m enjoying it. One scene involving the aunt farting in an elevator had me laughing uproariously. (What can I say? Fart jokes are universal.) I like all of the actors, and the two leads are cute but not too precious. So far they’re both selling the story well. The music is typical K-pop, bouncy and fun. I really enjoy the folklore of the story, and I hope that more legends are explored or shared further in. There are some cheesy effects, but also some really nice ones, most notably a scene that looks as though wood carvings have come to life (very reminiscent of the exquisite video game Okami). And the temple of the Goddess of Childbirth looks like it’s borrowed straight from Faerie Tale Theatre, which I adore. Overall, My Girlfriend Is A Gumiho isn’t quite as romantic as I expected, but whether it keeps barreling down a path of pure comedy or if it blooms into a slow-building romance, I can’t wait to watch more. In fact, I think I’ll do so right now!

First Impressions: Someday’s Dreamers

Country girl, big city: it’s an old tale.

But this time she’s got magic.

When I first saw the cover of today’s First Impressions, I assumed that it would be a heavy drama along the lines of Ef: A Tale of Memories. And to be fair, I’ve only seen one episode, so the drama might be just around the corner. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how light and charming the first episode of Someday’s Dreamers turned out to be.

Yume meets random nice dude in the big city. At this point I assumed she was about to get robbed, probably because I watch a lot of Batman cartoons.

Yume Kikuchi is a young mage who has just arrived in the big city (that’s Tokyo, for the record) in order to register with the Bureau of Mages and complete a sort of apprenticeship with an assigned mentor. However, being fresh off the farm, she has trouble crossing a busy street in order to reach the subway. A nice young man sees her plight and helps her with her bag. As they cross, Yume trips and is almost hit by a speeding car. Luckily, being a mage, she causes all of the cars near her to levitate for a moment, then lands them gently back on the pavement. The young man asks if she’s a mage, and she says yes. He thinks that’s cool, and helps her the rest of the way to the subway. Yume wants to thank him, but he insists on nothing. As her train is pulling out, she looks back at the young man and uses magic to fill his shirt with so much money that he looks pregnant as a way to repay him.

“So my first assignment is to magic you guys up a couple of shirts, right? ‘Cause seriously, this is ridiculous.”

Finally she arrives at the building she was told to find in a letter. (She was also told to make her way there without using magic, but she blew that twice.) Another young man, this one barely wearing a shirt, introduces himself as Smiley and helps her with her luggage up the stairs to his boss’s apartment. In a moment more Smiley’s boss arrives, Masami Oyamada, the person Yume was told to find. Masami is also shirtless, having just come down the stairs from a shower. In a sweet and funny scene Yume blushes and requests that both men put on shirts. After everyone is clothed Masami looks at Yume’s records and wonders why the daughter of a famous mage would be assigned to him, then he goes on to fill her in on her upcoming duties. Yume confesses that she believed that Masami would be a woman based on his name, and as such had planned on boarding with him. Masami says that even though he’s male, there’s an extra room upstairs, so her boarding with him will be no problem.

The sad pizza of loneliness: the pepperoni even tastes like discs of salty, meaty tears.

After Yume gets settled she wanders downstairs to the salsa bar that Masami runs. Smiley also works there, and he tells Yume that if she wants to stay she’ll have to dance. She hurries back up to her room, feeling homesick and thinking of her family back in the country. Soon a pizza arrives at her door, ordered and paid for by Masami. Yume eats then falls asleep. The next day she and Masami have a lovely breakfast together and then walk over to the Bureau of Mages. Masami jovially chats with the receptionist while a man clearly hiding from Masami motions Yume over to him. He asks what Masami is doing there, then he tells Yume that he hopes she’ll become a good mage. Suddenly, the young man who helped Yume onto the subway comes bursting into the Bureau with a huge sack filled with the money that she created in his shirt. He demands that the money be taken back by Yume, saying that he doesn’t want her to pity him. Everyone stops and stares as the massive bag o’ bills topples over and spills onto the floor. Fin!

Let’s toast! To the beginning of a beautiful new…friendship? Love interest? Mentor-and-student connection? I just don’t know yet, but I can’t wait to find out!

It’s kind of funny how this anime seems like a typical slice of life story except for the part about Yume and Masami being mages. I was shocked when I heard that Yume was a mage, because I was expecting a run-of-the-mill melodrama. It was a nice surprise to find something different in a traditional genre. Apparently this anime came out in 2003, but the animation still holds up very well. I don’t always enjoy the lighter lines and broad details in this type of art, but for some reason it really worked for me in this story. I especially loved that instead of the usual wing of hair sticking up, Yume has almost a heart-shape created by her stray hairs! The music was nondescript and not very memorable, to the point where I can’t even hum the opening or closing themes, try as I might to recall them. The characters were pretty great, in my opinion. Masami was gentle, thoughtful, and charming, which definitely puts him in danger of becoming my newest anime crush. Yume was innocent, shy, and inquisitive, but not annoyingly so. As someone who has traveled far and wide and lived in other states as well as other countries, I very much identified with Yume’s homesickness, especially since she and her family had Southern American accents in the English dub. I really loved how Yume’s accent was understated until she talked on the phone to her family, and then it became amplified. (It’s so true! I never sound more country than when I’m on the phone with my grandmother.) It’s these kinds of details that really struck a chord with me. Overall, I was quite impressed with episode one of Someday’s Dreamers, and I’ll definitely be tuning in to see what happens next.

Gamer’s Paradise: The World God Only Knows

His skills are an online legend.

Now he has to face reality.

Initially I was quite taken with today’s anime selection, as evidenced by my glowing First Impressions post. And I still enjoyed it several episodes in. However, now that I’ve reached the end of The World God Only Knows, I’m not quite sure how I feel about it.

Keima's worldview consists of whatever is on the screen in front of him. Elsie isn't a gamer, so she just doesn't understand.

The premise: antisocial gamer geek Keima Katsuragi is an unbeatable “god” when it comes to dating sim games. Because of this, he’s tapped by dark forces (re: forced) to help a cute demon named Elsie collect loose souls which have escaped from hell. They hide in the hearts of girls, for some strange reason, so Keima has to put aside his disgust with reality and use all of his dating sim tricks of the trade in order to woo the girls who are the unknowing hosts. Once their hearts fill with love for Keima, there’s no more room to hide, and when the loose souls escape Elsie is there to capture them in a giant glass jar. Keima hates real life and pretty much anything other than his games, so watching him try to utilize his gaming skills in real life situations is the basis for much of the show’s humor.

Keima's harem covers all the bases: a nadeshiko, a tsundere, a meganekko (without glasses), a yandere, and a sporty girl.

I really enjoyed this series at the beginning. I loved the character of Keima and identified with him instantly, being something of an antisocial gamer-type myself (though I hold nowhere near the level of disgust with reality that Keima does [except for when I’m having a super horrible day]). I thought that Elsie was cute, though nothing special when it comes to daffy sidekicks. Most of all I really liked the premise and was eager to watch it all unfold. But then somewhere along the way things fell a bit flat. There are four girls that Keima must pursue in season one. The first story arc was hilarious, and quite quickly resolved. The second took a bit longer but remained funny throughout. There were a couple of filler episodes, and one involving Keima trying to beat a bugged dating sim made me tear up with laughter. Then came the third girl’s story, which was mostly enjoyable but seemed to drag on just a bit too long. Finally, the fourth girl’s arc emerged, and I hated everything about it. I hated the character of the girl because she was boring and almost painful to watch; I hated the setting, which was repetitive and repressive, and I hated the total lack of anything funny. It was a longer arc, which made it worse, and I found myself getting depressed just by watching it. Whereas earlier in the season this show was always the first one I’d watch after downloading all of my Anime On Demand shows every week, by the end it became the last. I had high hopes that the final episode would make up for lost laughter, but it did nothing to redeem itself.

In godlike mode Keima is nearly invincible. In his own mind, that is.

The series seemed to try to become too serious, which in turn made the show depressing because the girl who the final story arc revolved around was herself depressing. Keima was also kind of joyless by the end, in my opinion, and that only left Elsie as a character to cling to, but she was never that exciting and could hardly be considered a reason to watch all on her own. The art was solidly good anime art, but nothing extraordinary or new. The music was just okay, though I did always enjoy the opening theme as well as the song that crops up in the final two episodes. Basically, the whole series was a bit of a letdown. It seemed too rambling and scattered, and it didn’t remain funny enough to abandon its storyline as much as it did. There’s a second season, and I would certainly check it out if given the chance in order to see if it can pick the series back up and make it shine like it once did. I still believe that the premise is great, and there’s a lot of comedy fruit just ripe for the picking to be found there. But a complete season should be able to stand on its own two feet, especially a first season, and The World God Only Knows fumbles disappointingly short of my initial expectations.

Rating: ★★★ Glad I watched it, and I might be tempted to add this series to my collection if the second season can make me laugh like the first half of season one did.

Who’s That Girl?: Kobato

Her past is mysterious, her journey unknown.

All she has is love.

I just finished Kobato a matter of minutes ago (it really takes a long time to complete a twenty-four episode anime when you only get one episode per week via On Demand!) and, wow. I have so much to say about this intriguing anime.

Kobato, magically falling from the sky like rain. Or bird poo. Magical bird poo.

As you might recall, dear reader, I wrote a rather positive First Impressions review of episode one. To briefly summarize the overall story, Kobato appears to be a chipper young girl, but she’s actually from “somewhere else.” She arrives on Earth (in Japan, presumably, though if a specific location was provided I can’t seem to recall it) in the company of a grumpy talking stuffed dog named Ioryogi. His sole purpose is to help Kobato carry out her mission of collecting kompeito, which in reality is a type of Japanese candy, but in this story the kompeito are actually people’s broken hearts. Whenever she heals a broken heart, the glass jar that she carries with her gains a kompeito. Only when the jar is completely full will Kobato gain her wish, which is “to go to the place I want to be.” (Yeah, nothing vague about that, is there?) To pass the time Kobato works at Yomogi Kindergarden alongside a grumpy tsundere named Fujimoto. She also encounters a whole host of other people who are, for the most part, completely charmed by her optimistic cluelessness. A bit later on, just to make things more interesting, a stuffed bunny holding a flower appears out of the sky (I swear I’m not making this up) to inform Kobato that she only has four seasons to complete her mission, otherwise it will be bad.

This pic pretty much sums up Fujimoto's and Kobato's relationship throughout most of the series.

What I enjoyed about the first episode became less enjoyable by the third and flat-out boring by the eighth. Episode after episode seemed to have the exact same premise: Kobato wanders around in a daft haze of cheerfulness and naivety until she meets someone who is sad, Ioryogi tries to get her to stay on task, Fujimoto says something vaguely mean to her, Kobato keeps plodding forward with her good intentions, and finally she manages to bumblef**k her way into healing a heart and gaining kompeito. While I found Kobato to be charming, sweet, and silly at first, after just a few episodes she became nearly intolerable. Bless her heart, she’s dumb as a brick, and I find it difficult to stay with a character who has zero common sense. I understood that she was not of this world, but come on, show some growth after a few episodes! I actually thought that the series was only twelve episodes long, so I stayed with it, otherwise I would have probably stopped watching.

Ioryogi seriously needed to explain a few things a bit sooner. I'm all for anticipation, but c'mon, ya gotta give me *something*!

Finally episode twelve rolled around and we got some answers about just who the hell these characters are and where they came from. Not a great deal, but enough to make it interesting again. Then I discovered that there are actually twenty-four episodes in the anime, and my heart sunk. However, after episode twelve, the series got exponentially better. I actually found myself looking forward to watching each new episode week after week, which was a complete 180 from the first half (when I was literally forcing myself to keep watching). An actual plot began to unfold in which there were several stories going on at once, and we finally got to see these characters more in-depth than before. To my amazement, little by little I found myself completely sucked in, so much so that by the final episode I had to pause the TV several times in order to wipe the tears away from my eyes. It was that engrossing!

Wait, you think I'm deep?

Kobato really was an emotional roller coaster to watch. First it was just cute and pleasant, then it was boring and predictable, then it was interesting and involving, and finally it was intense and heart-wrenching. Once you finally receive all of the backstory in the final two episodes, it doesn’t seem that complicated. However, after reading up on the manga, it seems that the story is even more involved than what’s explained in the anime. Since there are only six volumes, I’m seriously considering checking the manga out in order to find out the entire story. However, even if you only watch the anime version of Kobato, I think that there’s something quite enjoyable to be found if you have the patience to navigate through the fluff at the beginning of the series. The animation is cute, and the music is sweet and strangely touching, rather like this anime as a whole. I really was shocked by how invested I became in these characters, who seem a bit flat and one-dimensional at first but then blossom into figures you truly care about, especially wide-eyed Kobato herself. I would definitely recommend this series to shoujo lovers and CLAMP aficionados, but even general non-jaded anime fans should find something substantial hidden within the sugary-sweet outer shell of Kobato.

Rating: ★★★✰ The initial eleven episodes keep this one from a full four stars. However, the end was emotional and satisfying, and even if I don’t add the anime to my collection, I’ll certainly be looking for the manga.

The Secret Is Out: Arrietty

Many things are much more than meets the eye,

especially little girls.

I’ve been itching to see the latest offering from Studio Ghibli ever since I first saw the advertisements for its North American debut last year. Finally, at long last, I made it to the cinema to take in The Secret World of Arrietty (or Karigurashi no Arrietty) and all I can say is, wow. I was definitely not disappointed.

I'm not the only one who thinks that Borrowers resemble mice...

The story is based on Mary Norton’s novel The Borrowers, which I’ve never read, so I can’t say how close the adaptation is. However, I do remember watching the Saturday morning cartoon The Littles, so I kind of understood the gist from the get-go: Arrietty and her parents are miniature people, roughly the size of mice, and they live in the floorboards of a house located in a particularly lush and green area of Tokyo. They survive by “borrowing” things such as cubes of sugar and tissue paper, tiny things that no one would notice if they went missing or not, hence they adopted the moniker of “Borrowers.” It’s very important that none of the “beans” (human beings) ever sees them, because, well, humans are humans. You never know which one might try to catch a Borrower and keep it prisoner, or show it off for money, or dissect it, or do any of the zillions of crappy things that humans in literature and movies are known to do.

One for shoulder, first class, coming right up!

One summer a sick boy named Shō (Shawn in the US version) visits the house his mother grew up in, which is also where Arrietty lives, in order to recuperate. Shortly after his arrival he spies Arrietty, much to her dismay. He tries to befriend her, but her parents warn her that beans bring nothing but trouble. Shō doesn’t give up, however, and though he has the best of intentions, his actions unintentionally draw attention to Arrietty and her family. After a couple of dramatic events take place, Shō teams up with Arrietty in order to make things right.

Imagine a gentle harp playing in the background and you're halfway there.

Oh, Arrietty, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. First of all, the music is stunning. The entire soundtrack is by Celtic musician Cecile Corbel, and while a Japanese film with a Celtic soundtrack doesn’t seem like it would necessarily be a good fit, it’s actually incredible. The vocals are lovely and lilting, and the harp makes the natural setting come alive, especially in the rain scenes where every pluck of the strings mimics a drop of water on the leaves. As a longtime lover of Celtic music, I know that the genre can get a little heavy at times, hearkening back to those 90s Pure Moods compilation CDs. However, the soundtrack to Arrietty is as far from the Celtic clichés as night and day. It would be a gorgeous album on its own, but paired with the film it perfectly enhances this Western tale in an Eastern setting.

"Arrietty, can you handle being the center of attention for 94 minutes?"

Besides the soundtrack, the rest of the movie is equally awesome. The animation is even more excellent than previous Ghibli offerings, displaying beautiful scenery, well-animated characters, and an astonishing attention to detail. (My favourite was the dragonfly wing quill in Arrietty’s study.) As for characters, Arrietty is kind and courageous, and even though her parents slip into the stereotypes of worrisome mother and stoic father, Arrietty is always relatable, as well as enjoyable enough to carry the film on her own merit. In fact, all of the other side characters are more of a framework set up in order for Arrietty to shine, and this she does with gusto. Shō, the other lead, is also easy to relate to, with a gentleness that anyone watching might hope they would display if they ever discovered something as magical as Borrowers in their bedrooms. He makes well-intentioned mistakes, but who doesn’t do that? Besides that, his actions make sense and never jar you out of the story with an eye rolling “Oh no, don’t do that!” moment found in so many movies trying to establish conflict. In fact, the smoothness of everything, story and otherwise, is really quite commendable.

Arrietty perfectly illustrates the face I made as I watched this entire movie: delight and joy.

By this point in my life I’ve seen many, if not most, of Studio Ghibli’s animated films, and I must say that The Secret World of Arrietty is firmly ensconced in my mind as one of the best of them all. Interestingly, this is the first Ghibli movie I’ve watched that was not directed by Hayao Miyazaki (Hiromasa Yonebayashi directed, though Miyazaki co-wrote the screenplay with Keiko Niwa) and I wondered if it would be missing something as a result. I was pleased to discover that Arrietty contains just as much magic and fantastical wonder as any Studio Ghibli film that came before, as well as another positive portrayal of young girls on par with the ones that Miyazaki movies are known for. In some ways this film might be more accessible to a Western audience thanks to its traditional story structure, but that doesn’t lessen its power in the slightest. Studio Ghibli is still creating some of the finest animated movies in the world, and the big secret of The Secret of Arrietty is actually that this unassuming movie about a very little girl will most definitely stand the test of time beside its Ghibli brethren as a wonderful film for all ages.

Rating: ★★★★★ Love this, love her, want the DVD for certain.

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